French ban on catcalling a good move for all

By Mitchell Blatt
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, August 14, 2018
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Security footage from an outdoor cafe in Paris showed a man shouting at a 22-year-old French student named Marie Laguerre (seen at left wearing red), and then throwing an ashtray at her and punching her in the face after she tells him off. [Video clip]

Along with the #MeToo movement, and the growing focus on tackling sexist behavior in general, the problem of gender-based street harassment has become the focus of growing attention from social activists and the media. 

A video of actress Shoshana Roberts walking through New York and having to endure disgusting comments from strange men over a period of ten hours went viral in the United States in 2014. The decision by France to legislate against the problem – imposing a fine of between 90 to 750 euros (US$100-870) – was also helped by the release of a video that focused attention on the problem.

Security footage from an outdoor cafe showed a man shouting at a 22-year-old French student named Marie Laguerre, and then throwing an ashtray at her and punching her in the face after she tells him off. The video exposes the falsity of one of the main defenses some people use to excuse catcalling.

This is not just a distasteful way of speaking. It's a statement of male privilege in society and it's a threat. A culture where catcalling is accepted is one where society gives men the power to say whatever they want to demean, objectify, and attack women who have no recourse to response. 

It's the kind of culture where male crimes of this nature are explained away by the circular excuse, "Oh, it's just men being men," a display of their macho side.

It's not such a rare occurrence that verbal harassment leads to physical violence when women dare to respond. Christine Sisto, a National Review contributor, described an experience on a train in which a man who had harassed her then followed her and threatened violence. 

The definition of assault is to make a threatening statement that results in the listener developing a credible fear of a physical attack. If catcalling is associated with a fear of possible violence, then any threatening street harassment is itself assault. 

Oftentimes, the words of a street harasser are themselves directly call for violence. Women describe explicitly sexualized catcalls and body gestures involving male genitalia. It is a call for rape.

The street is a public space, where everybody should feel safe. No one should be seen as making any kind of choice to open themselves up to abuse when they step outside. 

It is not just men being men. Excusing street harassment because it happens, perhaps with a shrug of the shoulders implying "oh, that's just him…." is utterly wrong. Not all men are street harassers, and it's the responsibility of every male to control themselves, whatever impulses they might feel. 

Most men comport themselves with a higher degree of decency than this; however, the feeling of insecurity a woman might feel in the presence of a strange man in public should be recognized and respected.

Having pointed out the harm in street harassment, defenders of the act have a responsibility to point to any good that comes out of it and any reason why it should not be banned.

One argument is that it is a violation of one's freedom of expression to ban people from yelling aggressive words at strangers randomly as they are walking somewhere. In order for this argument to stand, one would have to point to any public value whatsoever in those words. Banning catcalling does not in fact interfere with the expression of opinions on political or social issues. 

There is the idea that people will be prosecuted for asking for directions or something similarly harmless and benign. Distinctions can be made. If a man tries to start a conversation for whatever reason and is told off, then they must back off. 

Non-threatening, non-harassing speech does not fall under a law against street harassment. The possibility of an overly broad law being drafted is a possibility in almost any kind of law. This might be a legitimate argument against a particular law and how it was drafted; however, it is not an argument against all laws banning street harassment.

One of the most absurd arguments is that banning catcalling will end romance. Anyone who believes this needs to find examples of women who met the most charming guy and had a stable, loving marriage with him after he had whistled at her from nearby a construction site. 

Naturally, there's an argument that such laws won't be effective. No law will be able to stop all harassment. People continue to rape and murder, but no one argues for repealing laws against such acts. 

Now, France at least has a tool at its disposal to punish verbal harassers, hopefully making a casual sexist think twice. Certainly, it won't make the problem worse. Society might not be able to stop all harassment, but at least we don't have to pretend it's okay.

Mitchell Blatt is a columnist with For more information please visit:

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of

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